Surviving a Nuclear Attack

"I am in hell" Elmo GIF
No you’re not! Get a grip, Elmo!

Remember when Hawaiians got that terrifying alert on their phones in 2018? You sure do! It was an insane 38 minutes of buffoonery that reverberated around the world. It’s a good thing that one was a false alarm, but that was a great example of what would happen in a real nuclear attack scenario. Assuming all of our alert systems work as planned, you’d have 10-20 minutes after an alert is issued to get to safety and gird your loins.

If you get such an alert: 

1. Get inside

As soon as you are warned about an imminent nuclear attack, get inside the nearest building. If you have a few choices within reach, go for the building that you know has a basement, is designated as a fallout shelter, is made of brick or concrete, and/or has very few windows. Go toward the center of the building and enter internal rooms, if possible; stay away from the doors and windows.

If you’re totally unable to get inside, take shelter behind any sturdy structure. Brace on the ground while keeping your face and hands protected by your body.

If you are driving and there are no buildings nearby, park your car and get as low as possible inside your vehicle. Keep your face down as you protect it and your hands with your body.

Raccoon hiding in log
You’re on the right track, but you need a door on that bunker, little buddy.

2. Stay inside

Once you are inside a safe space:

  1. If you were outdoors during possible radiation exposure, remove the outer layer of your clothes.
  2. Place the contaminated clothes in a plastic bag and seal the bag. Keep this sealed bag as far away from humans and pets as possible.
  3. If your HVAC system is running, turn it off as soon as you can to avoid bringing irradiated air into your house.
  4. Cover indoor air vents with plastic bags to prevent outside air from coming in. 
  5. Cover windows with drapes, blinds, or curtains to reduce radiation through the windows.
  6. Tape the gaps around the door of your safe room to limit contaminated air.
  7. Wash yourself to remove the remnants of fallout from your hair and skin. If that’s not possible, wipe all exposed areas of your body with a wet cloth.
  8. When washing your hair, do not use a conditioner as it will bind the radioactive elements to your hair.
  9. Clean and cover any open wounds on your body.
  10. Clean any pets who were outside during the fallout. If possible, brush their coat and wash them with soap and water. 
  11. To protect your thyroid from radiation that could cause cancer, take your Potassium Iodide tablets as directed on the package if you’re directed to do so by authorities.
    • Check with your doctor before purchasing KI pills to confirm you’re a good candidate to take them. Once it’s time to take them, don’t take more than indicated for your age/weight, or you could have severe side effects.
  12. If you are injured or feel sick, call 911 and do as directed. 
  13. Consume only packaged food and bottled water that were inside the building during the nuclear attack. Do not consume anything that may have been exposed to radiation or was outside.
  14. Do not leave your shelter for at least 24 hours after the attack. Stay inside as long as your supplies allow beyond 24 hours.

Depending on the size of the attack and your proximity to it, you may need to stay in your shelter for days or weeks. It is safest to stay inside until the authorities declare that it is safe to go outside. If you run out of supplies before it’s safe to leave, call 911 for instructions.

Rule of Thumb

Consider getting a satellite phone to stay in contact. Satellite phones don’t rely on the same tower networks that serve most cell phones, so they should remain reliable even if cell towers are not functioning.

3. Stay tuned

During a nuclear attack, staying informed is extremely important. Stay tuned to your TV, radio, and smartphone to ensure you receive updates and instructions from official sources.

If you’re able, call a trusted member of your family to give updates on your status. If you lose power, you may need to conserve your battery, so you should limit phone conversations to necessary communication.

The main updates you are listening for will be an all-clear signal that will allow you to return to the outside and an evacuation notice. If you are required to evacuate:

  • Grab your emergency supply kit
  • Close and seal the doors and windows of your house to limit contamination
  • Turn off air conditioners, furnaces, fans, and turn off other electronics
  • Keep your mouth and nose covered by a mask or cloth at all times while outdoors
  • Adhere to instructions given by the authorities

Evacuation is not likely unless there is an immediate danger that is greater than the danger of the radiation outdoors, such as an uncontained fire.

If you follow these steps, you should significantly limit your risk during a nuclear attack. Your survival will ultimately depend on how close you are to the blast, but if you’re in a survivable zone, these tips will help keep you safe.

Spread the word about nuclear attack preparedness to your friends and talk to your family to make sure they know what to do in this type of emergency. The Cold War may be over, but the heat is still on. Stay safe out there!

Surviving a Nuclear Attack
See you on the other side.

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Katherine Esperanza is a Los Angeles based writer. When she's not conjuring new queer slice-of-life short stories, she's busy watching the newest films, out at queer shows, supporting queer artists, or just checking out the queer community as a whole.

A former international non-profiteer, small business owner, and co-op'er, Katherine is delighted to help introduce more leftist politics into the disaster preparedness/prepper sphere, which is currently far too right-wing.